Asean leaders yesterday put pen to paper to form an Asean Community to further lift the well-being of the grouping's 625 million people.
They also endorsed a road map to draw the grouping of 10 nations closer over the next decade.
The Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the Establishment of an Asean Community comes at a time when the global economy is weak and rising geopolitical rivalry threatens to affect the peace and stability that have enabled South-east Asia to prosper in recent decades.
The document is aimed at building "economies that are vibrant, competitive and highly integrated, and an inclusive community that is embedded with a strong sense of togetherness and common identity".
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the grouping has come a long way, but there will be work to be done after the Asean Community is established on Dec 31.
Asean has made progress not just in lowering barriers to trade and mobility, but also "in the thinking, the realisation that we do have to work together", he added.
He was speaking to Singapore reporters after two days of meetings among Asean leaders, as well as with their key partners. The Asean and East Asia summits came right after the Group of 20 summit in Antalya and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Manila, both of which he attended.
Tackling terrorism featured at all three meetings, as did the possibilities of economic development and improving livelihoods in a sluggish global economy, including through more integration.
While some in Asean may have more pressing issues, Mr Lee said regular meetings put pressure on officials to make progress.
He recalled how the upgrading of the Asean-China Free Trade Area ran into some last-minute difficulty and its scheduled signing on Saturday had to be put on hold.
"But because we were all here and we were close to agreement, overnight, they worked away and the form of words was settled, and we were able to sign the agreement," Mr Lee said.
He noted that most of the commitments outlined in the Asean Economic Community (AEC) on freeing up trade have been met.
So Dec 31 will not see a sudden transition, but Singapore businesses can benefit by understanding what the AEC offers and how they can seize the opportunities to gain access to other markets, he said.
Analysts noted that the AEC is not just about trade but strategy too. Mr Lee said both China and the United States want to develop good relations with Asean, as do countries such as India.
On Saturday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged infrastructure loans totalling US$10 billion (S$14 billion) to Asean states to improve railway and production capacity and connectivity across the region.
Separately, US President Barack Obama invited all Asean leaders to the US next year and reiterated America's commitment to Asean and the region.
Asked for his observations about US-China dynamics at the summit, Mr Lee said while difficult issues like the South China Sea remain, Asean-China ties are growing in many areas like trade and tourism.
As coordinator for Asean-China relations for the next three years, Singapore hopes to improve ties and make progress on a Code of Conduct to manage tensions in the South China Sea. The South China Sea is one area where China and the US do not see eye to eye, and is an issue between them at Asean forums.
"But China and America have got a broad account too," Mr Lee said.
"This has to fit into that wider account and the two have to work it out in that broader context, as well as within the Asean backdrop."
Laos will take over from Malaysia as Asean chairman next year.
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